What Makes Applied Improv an Effective Strategy for Preventing Violence?

Ask any teacher of applied improv this question and you’ll likely get a variety of similar answers with a diversity of examples and approaches.  Nevertheless, it is an important question to ask right now.

After all, we seem to be surrounded by devasting violent acts. Some tragedies are manmade like this week’s horrific shooting in Las Vegas.  Some are the results of mother nature, like hurricanes Irma and Maria.  And some are a combination; as with the current situation in Puerto Rico where hurricanes caused massive destruction and we have been slow to help.

I don’t think you get to be human and not experience some kind of suffering.  Yet, minimizing it for ourselves and others seems like a compassionate and purposeful mission.  I believe fiercely in this and that there is hope. Some of which lies with students and teachers of applied improv.

Why Applied Improv?

There are several compelling reasons. First, applied improv is a way to playfully practice and grow fundamental communication skills like listening and speaking up.  All activities help with at least one of these skills while the vast majority help with both. As we practice developing these skills we build the foundation that helps us to manage conflict, embrace diversity, and give and receive constructive feedback with respect and kindness.  These are the building blocks to healthy relationships even among people with different cultures, skin colors, sexuality, age, genders….etc.

Second, participants get to be imperfect and supported at the same time.  We celebrate mistakes in improv which allows us all to be human and stay connected.  While the games of improv can lead to silly, fictional stories like eggplant and applesauce recipes, nano-weights for muscle-building, or knitting book-covers by the millions, there is an underlying and profound sense of trust-building going on. This lets us take risks, try out new behaviors,  and share ideas.  In essence, the process helps us discover who we are and who we want to be.  Our best selves can emerge with authenticity and in friendship.

Third, we get to experience ‘divine play’.  Many will nod in understanding this concept in thinking of a baby playing with his or her food and making funny sounds, dogs chasing each other on a beach, or horses frolicking in a field. This spirit of playfulness is incredibly joyful and improv lets us experience it first hand.

Fourth, as we play together we share experiences that are often, but not always funny.  We also share moments of other emotions such as sadness or anger.  These shared experiences are bonding.  Most people want to care about others and be cared about.  As our world is erupting in chaos, the importance of creating spaces and opportunities for this cannot be understated.

Fifth, a point made by improv student and retired 2nd-grade teacher, Glenna Kimball, “Having time to play together gives us the strength to cope with everything else that is going on”.  This is important b/c getting stuck in despair would be easy to do these days, but not helpful.  Making joy a priority will help us stay the course.

Where can you find an applied improv class? 

I have two businesses that involve applied improv.  One is PILL-Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab, where you’ll find basic classes and along with new projects like combining mindfulness and improv (with Korabek Training) and the upcoming version for young adults (with Project SparX out of Fireside Theatre in Newburyport, MA).  I also teach Medical Improv to healthcare professionals wherever I am invited to.  I have been as far away as Saudi Arabia!  The activities are the generally the same, but the framing involves improving critical outcomes such as patient safety, patient experience, and workforce health.

If you are an applied improv teacher, please feel free to post your related work with any links to it,  additional ideas and approaches you are using in the comment section of this blog.

Summary

Our abilities to cope with, respond to, engage in conflict about, and prevent violence all have roots in our abilities to form healthy and respectful relationships. Our social fabric may be wearing thin or unraveling, but applied improv classes can help.  And there are new teachers and approaches rising up all over the world!  Learn more at the Applied Improvisation Network.